Cheapass Games became
famous within minutes of inception for a string of clever, quirky board and
card games that are inexpensive and fun. If you haven't played one yet, you're
really only hurting yourself. Some of these games are clearly better than others,
but really, the worst of them is still more fun than another soul-crushing round
of Monopoly. Gen Con
featured some all-new board games from the thinking man's thrift shop. Here's
one of them.
What's The Deal?
U. S. Patent Number 1 is the latest board game from Cheapass Games,
designed by James Ernest and Falko Goettsch. The players have all invented time
travel, and are racing toward the U. S. Patent Office on opening day in 1790
to get patent number 1 to prove who invented it "first."
Is It Any Good?
USP#1 continues to uphold the Cheapass legacy of fun, short games that
come partially disassembled, but can be basically played out of the box. It's
a game for 3 to 6 players, and by the time the other 2 to 5 of them have figured
out how the board fits together, you'll have skimmed the rules and can start
explaining it to them.
Each player is a time travel inventor who is hurtling through time, collecting
pieces to complete his or her time machine. Your machine competently jaunts
through the various eras represented by board sections. But this achievement
alone is not deserving of a patent. You also need four upgrades: a weapon, a
shield, a chassis, and a power plant. Each upgrade is represented by a card,
and the cards are scattered all over the board in different eras.
When you've managed to travel around and collect a working set of four upgrades
(or before you have them, but once you're pretty sure it's gonna come together),
you travel to 1790 and get in line at the patent office. If your time machine
is fully assembled, operable, and you're actually present when your number is
called, you win.
The game is just about as light and quick as I've described it here. Happily,
it also has some repeat playability. There's a nice breadth of winning strategies
to the game that you won't figure out until you've played a couple of times.
You normally don't see that kind of behavior outside of those fancy-shmancy
import games, and the various options are fun enough that you'll want to try
more than one.
The art is all public domain clip art, which they've done an excellent job
of making seem cooler than it really is. You've never seen time machines look
so retro. However, the 1900s turn-of-the-century graphic style can be busy.
This wouldn't be so bad, but the board and card backs are printed in monochrome
green. As face down cards stack up on the board, the field of play starts to
blur into a one big green square. About 20 minutes into the game, your eyes
will be begging for a break. There's really no way to fix this short of going
in with markers and creating your own contrast.
Like all Cheapass games, the box delivers only the basics you need for the
game: the rules, the board, the cards. Before you play you need to scrounge
up something to represent money, a pawn and a counter for each player, and a
few six-sided dice. And like most Cheapass games, the game is a little weird,
but not so weird that you couldn't play with your parents or non-gamer S.O.
U. S. Patent is not the very best game Cheapass has ever produced, but
it's plenty fun and you'll play it more than once. For a measley US$7.00, it's
well worth owning. Or at least worth talking your buddy into buying so you can
play when you want.